Doctor Who: Clara vs The Doctor

Flatline – Clara’s Choice

Seems some people are upset with Clara, mainly for not wanting the kids saved in Flatline. I think she spoke as a someone who has seen a bit of the universe and seen how lonely and dangerous it is for survivors. I also think she spoke as someone who has lost her mother and spent her working life attempting to be a kind of parent. Saving a handful of kids would have been both cruel and kind. And I liked her answer, she wasn’t staying because Danny, who wouldn’t leave the kids, she wanted to stay so as to not to be the last. For all her wanting to be a ‘Good Doctor’ she doesn’t want the one thing that defines his iterations since 2005 to be the only one, since she has seen his despair and rage and lostness.

While there are parallels to Fires of Pompeii and The Doctor and Donna’s decision to ‘save anyone’  this was on a larger scale and in the end it became more like Amy’s Choice. Amy chose to risk death because of her love, and The Doctor followed suit by attempting to blow up the TARDIS. As an episode it demonstrated again how Clara and The Doctor are on different paths. He and Donna were together in their decision, Amy and the Doctor make similar decisions, but Clara goes her own way.

Anyway all that’s beside the point…

Spectrum

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor spends a lot of time highlighting aspects of his character that are rude, supercilious and judgemental. Plus a little ignorant. I mean of course trees communicate, has he not heard of symbiotic fungi? Some suspect him of being Autistic, but that’s not right. His behaviour is a choice. Much too, has been made about the age of this Doctor’s incarnation. Yep, physically he looks older and there maybe a plot reason for this, but emotionally and mentally he has regressed and is less mature.

Queue The Evidence

The Doctor has always missed human social and interpersonal cues for appropriateness. Up to a point this is played for laughs and it can be endearing, like when Rose gives him a look about not eating straight out of (someone else’s) jar in Fear Her. This is a visual short cut to render him an outsider, Other. However, most of the time it’s his choice. In his rush he doesn’t have time for courtesy – sometimes this is fair enough – he does tell Queen Victoria to go for a jog when they are being pursued by a werewolf. Of late though, this impatience with manners and other people speaking has been turned up a notch. In almost every recent episode he is telling people to shut up, rather than finding other ways to get thinking time – like fingers on lips (Fear Her) or hands across mouths (Vampires of Venice).

He may play with humans and indeed breathe their air, but The Doctor doesn’t live by their rules, which are for ‘little people’. What happened to The Doctor thinking of humans (like Wilfred Mott) as giants?

To this Doctor we are teeny, weeny people, living on a tiny planet.

To this Doctor we are teeny, weeny people, living on a tiny planet.

 

Investigating Wizard

I get that he elects to eliminate certain things from his focus to solve the problem at hand, but this is not exactly working is it? In trying to see the big picture he has stopped listening to people, Clara in particular. I don’t know if this is a clue to us that he doesn’t trust Clara, but it’s infuriating.

The Doctor has always been a kind of Alien Sherlock or Space Gandalf, but Sherlock was always obvious about his motives for his analytical behaviour and honest about his emotional capabilities, and while Gandalf often brought bad news he was never mean or unfeeling about it. Yet, while The Doctor seems exhibits traits akin to Sherlock Holmes’ those with Autism have capacity to care. I’m wondering if the Doctor does…because he seems mostly not to and since he doesn’t care he doesn’t mind saying so, especially to people like Courtney. I’m hoping there is a reason for all of this.

I say, Clara, I'm another mean version of The Doctor, care for a stroll on Pluto so I can ignore you and talk over you?

I say, Clara, I’m another version of The Doctor. Care for a stroll on Xplotislial 3 where I can ignore and talk over you?

Grow up

When he does care it’s with all the maturity of a sulky kid as he lets others around him interpret his silences. It’s Danny who has the insight into what The Doctor feels about Clara. This Doctor also fails at detecting human emotions. Once he could ‘read’ Amy and Rory and now he is completely unsure about how Clara feels unless she tells him. Lucky for us she does (or does she?). Except sometimes he doesn’t listen and Clara resorts to yelling or insisting he listen. This happens on the Orient Express repeatedly. Instead of The Doctor telling people to shut up I want Clara to tell The Doctor to grow up and do the one thing almost each of the episodes has told us to do – Listen.

Savant

It’s true The Doctor’s ability to focus to solve problems often presents him as some kind of savant. His recall and long history combined with his superior technology often get him the win. Yet The Doctor is a genius born of experience, there are far more intelligent beings out there who’ve passed exams, like The Master, for instance. Recently though, Clara is the one doing the problem solving. He knows the big picture, but she sees the solutions that saves people – like with her hair-band on the train in Flatline. And since when does a genius focused on solving problems refuse to provide all the information required to those tasked to make a decision – as in to Clara in Kill the Moon?

The Doctor as Henry Higgins

Don’t get me wrong, as a hero The Doctor is pretty entertaining. Yet he has always been bit of an egotistical mansplainer. The Doctor believes he is the smartest person in the room and the one with all the answers, which he eventually provides. This model of older authoritarian white man telling younger women stuff is a tired trope in Western culture and exists in everything from Pygmalion to 50 Shades of Grey. This is why the show needs The Doctor to stop dismissing people, which is the point about having graffiti teen and voices-hearing school girl save the world. It’s just a pity that the lesson he teaches in In the Forest of the Night – to listen – is the one he most needs to learn.

However, I think most of what I want to say about women I’ve addressed in posts about Kill the Moon and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.

One out of one aliens can’t tell the difference between humans and otters 

The Doctor has fixations, mainly about people. This doesn’t put him on the spectrum though. He stubbornly gets an idea in his head and with his vast intellect he can’t find it in himself to call Danny by his name or acknowledge that he is indeed a maths teacher and not a PE teacher. With Mickey/Ricky that was a gag that became meaningful. But with Danny it’s just dismissive. He also fails to see that Danny is the child Rupert he spoke to and also the ancestor of the first time traveller he met and rescued. For someone fixated on seeing the truth he can’t see it very well at all. He prolly should wear his glasses again.

Some on the spectrum are good at organising data. The Doctor uses his abilities to reduce people to categories.  Sometimes this is necessary, so in Smith and Jones The Doctor identifies Martha as helpful, and one of her colleagues as someone who will ‘slow them down’ because of her panic. Again, with limited time and oxygen, this is probably fair. In Flatline Briggsy becomes ‘Local Knowledge’ along with other less complimentary titles told to his face, just like Danny is PE. His hasty categorisations are becoming lasting judgements, often completely wrong and against the spirit of ‘never cruel or cowardly’.

However, there maybe one difference The Doctor can see.

Not Good Enough 

First there was Mickey ‘the Idiot’ Smith, the man not good enough for Rose and who was replaced by The Doctor himself, and now Danny ‘PE’ is the man who must prove himself to be good enough for Clara. However, The Doctor assumes Clara falls for the (white) literature teacher because of his bow tie and awkwardness. This is either a clumsy attempt to allow The Doctor to imagine Clara with a poor clone of his former self (metaphorically speaking) or reflects his inability to see how Danny could be with Clara.

Martha, the rebound Companion, is never quite good enough compared to Rose (Shakespeare Code). I thought this was to demonstrate his grief and guilt, but is it really? It’s interesting that when The Doctor and the TARDIS imagine a human life for him it is a particular era where Martha is only let in as a servant and is subject to racist taunts.

Then I remember Donna with her husband Shaun who ‘doesn’t earn much’ and how The Doctor rescues them both with a lottery ticket. Then’s there’s her first husband who sold her out to a giant alien spider. Does Donna have a type or are the husbands too harshly portrayed – especially Shaun? Is this the Great White Saviour deigning to help his less capable, intelligent and deserving rivals who are never good enough compared to him? Then there is The Doctor’s treatment of Courtney – he tells her she is worthless and then claims the credit regarding her later importance. I can’t recall a single individual he has called unimportant, until Courtney?

I’m not sure this is deliberate, and perhaps I’m the one with the problem, grouping disparate characters like this. Yet, if I am right the theme here is that PoC are being cast as characters who either see themselves or are seen by others as Not Good Enough. Not good enough as boyfriends or husbands, not good enough as providers or companions and not good enough as individuals.

Am I finally reading too much into a family TV show?

The test is whether I apply Good Enough to all the other Companions. Captain Jack – too much ego to admit he is not actually Good Enough; Rose grows from shop girl to dimension jumping saviour of the world but she never feels like she doesn’t deserve The Doctor; Donna never feels like she doesn’t have the right to get in the face of The Doctor, despite her insecurities. Amy feels entitled to The Doctor and is powered by her restored faith in him. Rory, although competing with The Doctor, is powered by his devotion to Amy and he never feels he doesn’t deserve her. River, as the combination of best and worst attributes of Amy (& Rory) and somehow Captain Jack, is never Not Good Enough. If anything, despite her long tragic trajectory, she is too much for The Doctor. As for the Paternoster Gang, the 19th Century London Steam-punk Lone Gunmen,  they are uniquely Other and awesome on their own and they know it – even though The Doctor treats them all badly as a kind of reluctant dependent.

Danny

If there is one character who subverts the Not Good Enough test it is Danny. Apart from being a bit awkward initially, Danny is not stupid, nor does he think of himself as such (like Mickey). He has already been a soldier so he doesn’t need The Doctor weaponising him. He doesn’t need saving because he saved himself from the potential legacies of his childhood. He is already a fully formed character of small flaws and heroic attributes. He is a carer and counsellor and a man of action and reason. As In the Forest of the Night demonstrates, he is someone who has thought about what he wants – to understand what he sees. He is more mature in The Doctor in this way. Maybe Danny is the true test for Clara, rather than her adventures? Maybe she will need to measure up to him? Just as The Doctor needs to act like the kind of Doctor Clara has become? I hope Danny is not too good to be true…and I hope understanding what he sees helps in the finale.

Speaking of which

Right up until the Dark Water preview I thought we finally had a handle on Clara. She, as apprentice Doctor, was doing much better at solving problems than our Timelord. She has Danny, a job with responsibilities, and the opportunity to see the universe. The only mystery about her is how she got the TARDIS phone number.

I’m thinking Missy.

Clara – know your enemy

With Clara – at all times she is someone different to him – Eliza Doolittle Barmaid and Secret Nanny, Dalek/Entertainment Officer/Genius, Modern Nanny, Teacher, Liar, and with the preview not even Clara? It seems this entire season she has been memorising The Doctor’s modus operandi and has been using it to solve his problems and now I suspect, using it against him. Not just to lie about and to Danny, but to other ends.

I’m conflicted about this upcoming finale. I don’t want Clara to be a victim without agency, but I don’t want her to be without redemption or restoration.

Missy and Clara are linked. There is a nethersphere, there are cybermen and the dead.

Theories

  • Clara is an amnesic Master stuck as a human (again). Or Missy is The Master and Clara is her daughter/something and they are raising the dead to inhabit cyber suits? Just like they raised the Master a while ago?
  • If Clara isn’t Clara, is Danny real, is Coal Hill? Do Danny and Coal Hill exist because The Doctor has been infiltrated? Just like Plastic Roman Rory was ‘invented’ through Amy? And this is all Missy’s doing because cybers?
  • Missy is a another renegade member of the Church of the Mainframe out to get The Doctor. Clara is her acolyte. This time they are raising a dead army against him.
  • Missy is a corrupted file of River in the Library (even the biggest computer in the world must get corrupted files – or corrupted duplicate files). And Clara is some kind of virus as she is ‘mentally linked with’ River.
  • Clara is another ganger, like with Amy, but programmed by Missy. They want to revivify the dead to make them cybers.
  • Clara is just a ‘repeated meme’, Missy is the enemy. Cybers are a type of meme.
  • Missy is a galactic infectious epidemiologist from Appalappachia’s medical ward out to clean up The Doctor (as the only surviving person from the planet) using Clara as intelligent disinfectant?
  • Is Clara a ghost in the machine? When she gave her ‘we’ll all dead to you speech’ in Hide was she telling the truth and her body is in the nethersphere?
  • ?

What I really want is the why of it all.  And it better be good – long, strung out preludes for underwhelming main events suck.

Please add your theories to the mix. The wilder the better. Or arguments as to why I’m completely wrong about stuff. This is, after all, only one reading of the text.

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Doctor Who: Wood for the Trees

From the previews I thought this would go down a spooky girl fairy tale path, influenced by William Blake (Tyger Tyger!). Easy to assume with the kid in the red coat running around through the woods, and with the wolves, and the deliberate spoken references to Hansel and Gretel. This current series does like making it ultra clear with the telling (Clara-fying) doesn’t it, when it could’ve been left up to the acting and stage craft. Then I thought it was some kid of inner world childhood version of Clara. However, In the Forest of the Night was not the fairy tale, but a happier version of the Nicholas Cage film Knowing, which is high concept solid SF story as well as really, really depressing. The fairy tale overlay is explained as folk memory. We do remember the fear, and invent the story when the facts disappear.

In the Forest of the Night

In the Forest of the Night

 

If I may digress to Knowing. It was directed by Alex Proyas* and you could put his films Knowing together with Dark City to explain his vision of the end of the world and how anyone might survive it. Apparently tall, slim off-putting pale psychic alien men are mostly involved. Who are slightly different to the Promethean tall white alien beings. Sigh.

Any who, Doctor Who is sometimes a vehicle of a kind of Proyas-lite. Not quite at the level of the Gothic murder mayhem of The Crow, but still, as a ‘family show’ it ventures into dark places at times. Comedy though, and flirting, lighten the mood. Importantly, most endings if not triumphant, at least see some survive. Hopefully not just because it’s a serial.

Speaking of Proyas, IMDb has this to say of his themes: ‘often involve people who can’t be entirely certain of their own natures or the world around them’.  Well, yes. That’s The Doctor isn’t it? A man not entirely certain of his own evolving nature,  popping up on worlds he isn’t always sure of? But it goes to human nature too. Time and again it’s human nature that’s in flux, making a lie of the world. We see this with the multiple Claras across time and space. And I’ve a hunch this is what the finale is about. Who and perhaps what Clara is or being used for.

More than anything though as nice it was to see Clara and Danny’s relationship define itself, and Danny do stuff. I now suspect this is to heighten the impact of the finale though.  The Doctor and Clara’s conversation towards the end was a highlight too. However, the episode was not without its flaws. Like where are the Londoners? And would an entire world do the bidding of one girl? Why not have The Doctor (and girl) contact Unit, for instance?

For all the running around, world in peril stuff, this episode felt a bit like a pleasant interlude while we’re waiting for the big main event. This is the trouble with writing an interesting high concept story and have it play out, only to be completely be overtaken by the last-minute preview of the next episode, which seems to turn everything about Clara upside down. If I had been the writer I would’ve been a bit peeved. Maybe it’s a matter of having a different kind of preview for this kind of reveal, or not having the preview tacked onto the end of the episode. 

 

An accurate depiction of the world if the trees stay.

An accurate depiction of the world if the trees stay.

*As an Australian, it’s great spotting the well-known and not so well-known Australian actors Proyas uses in his films including Play School’s legendary Benita Collings).

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Shameless Self Promotion (Hashtag Writing)

A post subtitled: where else to find writing by me.

Apart from my thoughtful posts about SF TV  and other important issues here, my most recent writing was published at Sparks of Consciousness blog here. It is a mock pretentious literary analysis speculative fiction essay/story experimental thing called          : writer of nil repute. I’m glad and relieved it finally found a home. Yay.

Beyond the afore-mentioned thing, I contributed a series of lil flashes to Open Changes by if: book Australia. It was a lot of fun. Contenders submitted a picture or a written piece less than 200 words that responded to, or rather remixed, a source story. If your remix went to the next round it too became a source for remixing and so on for several rounds. I submitted a few, but the last one is perhaps my best effort and is called No Illumination – the link here is to that page.

Portrait of me looking for inspiration. See - basket is empty.

Portrait of me looking for inspiration. See – basket is empty.

And am messing about with a poem. I wrote it a while ago, but am editing it and working in newer themes that occurred to me after I finished with the thesising.

Speaking of which. Now it’s all finished and assessed I’m working up the courage to go back to the dread creative writing thesis. My plan is to give another spit and polish and decide if I should submit the story bit somewhere as a long short story, or a shorter novella, or give it even more thought and see if it develops into a novel. Seriously considering just asking Twitter if anyone wants to read it with a view to publication or even advice:

“Something like this: Hi & I have a novella that needs publishing. Please form an orderly queue, no pushing.

We’ll see, I suppose.

Think this sums up everything  nicely.

Think this sums up everything nicely.

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Doctor Who: Depth Perception

Arcs of Triumph?

From a writer’s point of view The Doctor is a hero that unlike many others, is never ‘complete’ to quote the repair droids of the MS Madame Pompadour. As we have seen, even as he faces death his story isn’t done, because his timeline extends through all of time and space in every direction and crosses itself. That provides writers with a lot of scope. Amid all the adventures though, any detail that adds to knowledge of his inner life or pre-Doctor history stands out. As it should. The issue for the writer is how to present it – how to weave it into the monster of the week story and make it pertinent to the season arc as well as revealing of character.

So what is significant about Clara’s role in both revealing aspects of The Doctor and shaping them? We know Clara shaped his unconscious with a story about fear and a toy soldier, and there does seem to be a theme going on about soldiers. We learn The Doctor slept in a barn he later used to attempt to blow up Gallifrey from. We repeatedly learn he lies. Sometimes we learn he lies because he knows someone is listening in (Gus in Mummy in the Orient Express) or to give people hope (Flatline), or to learn something. We know he often doesn’t care about feelings. Except when he does. He is self-loathing and aware of it and smart and arrogant about it. In Flatline, he revealed taking on the persona of The Doctor is not about doing or being good and this series so far is his attempt to define if he is good at all.

Yet he is still a hero. Or: yet he is still a hero?

And somehow Missy and Clara fit into all this.

We learn, as writers to make characters ‘real’ or three-dimensional. Readers (or viewers) are meant to love them, identify with them, or have empathy for the heroes they are drawn to. The Doctor may not like himself, but others love him and see him as real even if they don’t know his name or understand much about him. It is they, with their flaws and mistakes, who add to his dimensions as much as the details of his past do.

POV

Some paintings are meant to be looked at in certain, obvious ways, but turn you head and the picture reveals what was there all the time, but obscured. A new perspective renders this aspect of the picture intelligible. It is apparent in Holbein’s The Ambassadors. As they stand in their furs and luxuries, a great big something at the bottom of the picture disturbs the celebration. At the right angle it is obvious an anamorphic device. A reminder of the futility of their materialism or a surprise for the viewer in the appropriate vantage point?

Similarly, taking your character into a new situation, or against a new kind of enemy or viewing your character from a different perspective should, likewise, reveal more of what was there already. Holbein’s skull is there the entire time, and once you know it is there you look for it. You can’t unsee or unknow its presence, but finding it the first time is…yowsers.

Furthermore, anything new that is revealed about your hero should be congruent with what has gone before. Or at least up to a point.

Yes, they come bearing gifts from foreign parts.

Yes. Trendy Hipster Ambassadors come with gifts from foreign parts.

Doctor Clara and the  Hero Formula

When Clara ‘becomes’ The Doctor in Flatline she breaks down his character into acts. Typical English teacher, she pulls apart his story and identifies his motivations and what she sees as his reasoning. She is doing what all critics do. She decodes his ‘Hero Formula’.  First. Snoop. Ask questions, use tools, get help, identify group and become their leader. As a leader The Doctor then tries to inspire hope, assesses ally or enemy for their abilities and then uses the strengths and weaknesses of those around him – or in this case her. Finally, Doctor Clara uses all her knowledge against her enemy, including their strengths. Doctor Clara is also unique in her modus operandi. Her knowledge of students and Briggsy especially allows her to see him beyond his ‘teen gone bad image’. She uses his skills, which turn the abilities of the 2Ders against them, which in turn, saves The Doctor.  She becomes the Clara Version of The Doctor.

Through a glass darkly: otherness

I am not sure yet that Clara realises The Doctor is not really a person but a role. Even though she is told this repeatedly, as recently in Flatline, when the Doctor delivers his Save the Day speech and demarcates his role. Again.

But to deliver his ‘defining’ role speech, Flatline had to deliver something to combat. This episode is very, very clever. So much of it is about the difficulties in interacting with a completely ‘alien’, kind of alien. And he used the word: monster. Finally it was a kind of ‘baddie’ we didn’t need to feel all conflicted over. It was new, weird, and completely Other. He used the power of the name, to identify it as an enemy and to identify himself as a protector. But while he needs the baddie to find himself, he is still not ‘good’.

 

You put the thingy in the middle and see the wonderous stuff.

You put the thingy in the middle and see the wondrous stuff.

Lines of Sight

The Doctor, from a new point of view, stuck hilariously inside his tiny Tardis, sees how Clara understands him and why she can’t say he is a definitive ‘Good Man’. Nevertheless Clara, and I guess all of us, want him, and her version of him to be ‘good’.  Good not just as a replica of The Ambassadors is a fair reproduction, but, I think morally just and the kind of clever tainted with kindness. In fact we want this Doctor to live up to his vow from Day of the Doctor: Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in. 

We are all just prism-ers here, of our own device

Western entertainment has traditionally depicted the good in white and the bad in black. We know that’s simplistic and racist, or has its basis in fears about The Other. But often stories are allegories, the blackness can be the darkness of night. Now we understand light and we know from Gandalf that white is not white. Refracting white light it breaks into its components, which is all colours – the entire spectrum. White is everything. In story telling logic, then, white/good is always alchemically mixed with a little of everything else. What I’m getting to is no Hero is without that little bit of everything else.

It white is everything, then black, is not something, but the lack of something. Not Freudian Lack (necessarily) but absence where in the nothing something can grow, develop, leech through. It is unknowing. Ok, sounding more Freudian now. These 2D monsters exist in the space where we think there is nothing. They are the skulls in the painting before we see them, in this episode, literally and figuratively. Once we know they are there we can’t unknow. But like the skull in the picture, they too are a mystery.

Critical perspective

Like criticism, perspective is just another way humans invented to understand the world. And the world worked fine without both for quite a while. But they do have their benefits, like making what we see clearer and rendering worlds and that which they contain proportionate to other worlds.

Anyway, whether the criticism is from someone like me outside the story, or from someone inside, like Clara or that other Companion/Doctor, Donna, it is never static. It comes from different places at different times with different motivations. Clara’s assessment of The Doctor is true for her experience at a particular point, but is not the only ‘truth’. Similarly, what I see now is limited because I am limited  in exactly the way The Doctor is not. Time and space and what for most is a linear experience of the progression of events are no barrier to this Hero with 12 Faces.

Unlike The Doctor I am on the slow path, but just like that Girl in the Fireplace every now and again the light breaks through. In those fleeting moments like Reinette, I too have a means to look through time into other worlds: stories.

Thanks to all the tellers of stories who show me other times and places.

This is something sciency about how our eyes can be deceived by light and movement or something.

This is something sciency about how our eyes are deceived but Gandalf and Newton show us white light is a bunch of colours. 

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Notational Interludes

After my post about art I could write about how I’m also a frustrated musician, inspired by my mother, who was the epitome of a folksy mcfolk musician, playing, as she did sporadically, the piano accordion, recorder, xylophone and glockenspiel, mostly by ear. On the other side of my family my knitting Nan focused her powers on the electric organ by her front door as she belted out hymns. However, as my violin teachers and family can attest, there was mainly relief when my music stopped.

All Greek to me.

All Greek to me.

 

I consoled myself with the thought I had really wanted to play the cello, but there wasn’t one, and when there was, another student played it. I never could get the timing right. Although the high school rock band is another story…

I never imagined music as a way of life. For one I thought you had to be able to read music, and I spent two years trying and mostly failing to learn how to read it, having only just mastered reading words. I realised later reading music wasn’t necessary, not for my mother, and not for countless others who got the rhythm and played along.

'The Music of the Poets. A Musician's Birthday Book. 1896.  It's just like Music and Lyrics.

‘The Music of the Poets. A Musician’s Birthday Book. 1896. It’s just like Music and Lyrics.

Music and me parted ways. Sometimes I am sad about this, like when I see live theatre and for a second yearn to be up in front of the footlights, like I was in high school. And then the vision fades and I will return into the west and to remain just me. Or Galadriel, whichever.

This is where writing is good. I can make up stories about anyone and anything. It’s like acting, which is pretending to be anyone, only I’m responsible for the story and I don’t have to dress up or talk to people.

If you like, too, writing has beats, swells and troughs, clear notes and driving bass. Stories have moods and themes and shrillness and depth. Rhythm and emotion. Stories almost have everything that music has except a live audience.

Should I start busking stories? Or asking for cash in exchange for 50 word poems featuring three words of your choice, guvna?

I think, too that whatever mode you practice, you shouldn’t dismiss the other modes. I’m aware it’s a sport to pick on actors in bands, but really, it’s all just human expression. Dickens and Mark Twain performed for audiences, singer song writers deliver narratives and ditto painters and dancers. Behind each is a desire to provide an experience – to communicate. Mostly this communication is one way, unless you’ve had a beer bottle thrown at you in a shifty bar as you sing the blues. Yet it is communication.

All this communication is done for the joy of it, for a living, for the ideas in it, for practice, for fun, for a story, for others, for an idea and for reasons you or I can’t articulate. It seems we’ve always done this, whether it’s 35,000 yo finger flutings on the wall of a cave in South Australia, or an interpretation of a children’s book in Matilda the Musical.

 

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Doctor Who: Strangers on a Train

After  the wrongness of Kill the Moon, Mummy on the Orient Express is back on track (ah, I make me laugh), but a bit odd. It’s like every episode Clara or The Doctor have to work each other out, even though they have all their combined history: for instance, Clara only now realises he lies. It is very much like they are strangers.

Not only that because the train looped and we ended some way back. Clara is now misrepresenting Danny to the Doctor; and the Doctor is either ignorant of this or too relieved she is staying to call her on it. Stuff is still wrong. Nothing has been sorted. Typical of train delaying tactics. Probably.

Design for the first Orient In Space.

Design for the Orient In Space. Made in New New Birmingham, two planets over from New, New York.

I want my mummy

I think we all get that The Doctor is a new version of himself. But writers, he is still himself. He should remember and Clara should reflect on this, because we all go it. Unless this is a writer thing. There have been different writers, and each episode writer is writing a new Doctor, but that is why Steven Moffat or any other series producer is there. To ensure continuity of plot and arcs, but also continuity in character (as far as it can manifest in a story about an alien shape shifting time traveller). So enough with how different The Doctor is, because really, mostly I’m seeing somebody congruent with Tom Baker’s Doctor and the 9th, 10th and 11th Doctors. Mostly. He even had lollies in a cigar case and slightly faulty Psychic Paper. Also Peter Capaldi’s playful ‘young’ vibe, whether he’s dancing around in circles drawing (probably calculations) on the beach, or the instances of humour are as honest as Matt Smith’s world-weary ancient schtick with Amelia/Amy.

Effecting the Voyage of the Damned

I had suspicions this would be a Starship Titanic episode with The Doctor leading plucky/annoying survivors across the wreck of a train in space as they escape a mummy or two, while he auditions Clara replacements. This time the train isn’t about to be ditched for insurance, but rather, its passengers are gathering to solve a problem, or be experimented on. A bit like Big Brother, only entertaining.

Starship Titanic, as pictured IRL.

Starship Titanic, as pictured IRL.

Anyway this is like Voyage of the Damned, but mainly only aesthetically. I often harp on about the writing, because I’m all about the words, but set design, costumes, lighting, even the voice over cast, do a lot to carry stories in Who, especially these days. A particular shout out to the Bubble Wrap monster joke in this episode. Ah the good ole days.

So the v/o was very Titanic, kind of fake cheery, and the officials were useless or weak, again, a bit Titanic, until The Doctor gives ‘em a bit of a rev up in typical fashion.

The lighting was especially good. It was all yellowy gas light train car, then aseptic cold white light in the lab-car, and then an emotively lit outdoor scene in a place that looked like a late afternoon near the 29th New York.

While I’m at it, this season seems to have spent more money on digital effects and it shows. Alien beaches look a little more alien when the light is a different colour. Pretending every world or place has the kind of sunshine or atmosphere of a Welsh gravel pit is a little repetitive, but changing the colour, inserting a digital backdrop and making actors look like they are standing under an alien sun is much better. In addition, phasing mummies look more believable if they phase while being miniaturised and inserted in a Dalek is suddenly more convincing, even if the memory bank includes a bunch of clear plastic hoses. Again, I have affection for those kind of effects,  as well as the shiny, shiny new sort.

The only thing is Astrid Peth was far more useful as an assistant than Clara in these respective episodes. Astrid saves The Doctor, Clara delivers him the next potential victim.

Risk and Reward

The Doctor speech at the end is important. He explains his modus operandi and how some situations require a decision must be made and sometimes no decision is a good one, which is a speech that would’ve been useful on the moon. Again, both their comments on addiction were interesting too.

I was going to be critical of how quickly the mystery was wound up, but he did say 66 seconds. Everything up until that point was so he could work out who is targeted so he could become the next victim and then save his own life in a little more than a minute. So he sacrificed his reputation by lying or pretending to lie, to put himself in danger.

But they weren’t the real sacrifices. Nup. The Doctor, in explaining the denouement, omits an explanation of their intercom conversation, where she doesn’t shut up and he is talking to her and listening to warnings. He never tells her all that results in the deaths of the catering staff. Their conversation killed them and The Doctor doesn’t tell her. He takes the burden of that on.

Alone.

Again, they are lying to each other and I can’t see anything good coming of it.

Soldiers and Enemies

As typical under Steven Moffat, the deadly menace in the Legend of the Foretold is more akin to a victim and has its own mythology and rhyme, which all combine very effectively. About 100% more eerie and dangerous than the Blitzer thing in The Caretaker. It was truly well done, and a welcome change in aesthetic from the ‘mind eating’ monsters of Time Heist and the jailed Minotaur of The God Complex. Interesting too that it was a soldier. I’m sensing a theme that needs to be explored further, regarding Danny, toy soldiers and veterans. I mean Amy’s imagination as read by aliens, literally remakes Rory into a plastic fake, but real Roman legionary. Clara is asked to marry the Emperor of a neo-Roman space empire, and is then with Danny, former soldier, who she and The Doctor encouraged to be a soldier. Hmmm.

Ramses II: successful soldier, famed Pharaoh and now, mummy.

Ramses II: successful soldier, famed Pharaoh and now, mummy.

However, to get back to the Foretold. As gruesome as the Legend is, it’s a smokescreen of an unknown pulling the strings for some ulterior purpose. It turns out Gus is somebody The Doctor has been putting off encountering. Is Gus linked to Missy? Or a different kind of enemy? A call back to someone we are familiar with, like The Master, or someone new? Or just a name embedded now for future series, a bit like how River Song is introduced way before her significance is revealed.

Who knows?

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Doctor Who: Goddesses, Captains & Parables

In space no one hears the countdown

If Earth is Mostly Harmless, then Space is Mainly Lethal. Lack of air. Un-earth-like physics. People on the edge. In Doctor Who, space is dangerous because of ‘grey area’ moral dilemmas and countdowns. Seriously, they had an episode called 42 with a living Sun and 42 minutes until a ship crashes into to it. In Kill the Moon, the countdown is on for a birth/death.

Physics is the motivation to go to the Moon because its gravity is Earth-normal. This saves a bunch of money for special effects. That’s a couple of writer’s making the BBC very happy. I liked the conceit, it was clever on both levels. As this link explains, all the other science that was um, not.

The telescope

Kill the Moon is not my favourite episode.

I’m not a fan of telescoping. It kills tension even as it raises expectation. It does so in the book of The Hobbit, where the narrator intervenes to tell everyone everything will be ok even before they enter Mirkwood. In doing this, Tolkien very nearly breaks the spell. In Doctor Who, it’s more like talking loudly and slowly so people can understand. It’s patronising and unnecessary. Which is me being Clara yelling at The Doctor I guess.

So the other week set up Danny as the moral support for Clara for situations that would test her boundaries. Voila those boundaries are tested. And then we have Clara’s rants. The set up and how it played out was unsubtle, clunky and negative. Which is a bit like The Doctor himself  of late.

Telescoping: fun in science, boring in narrative.

Telescoping: fun in science, boring in narrative.

The positive upside is that Danny’s role is clearer. He is to Clara what The Doctor could have been. Not in terms of a romantic relationship (necessarily) but in terms of an understanding confidante that challenges and accepts others, and transforms them for the better.

Baby Moon

Kill the Moon sees Clara as Madge in The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe. This time Clara saves the Baby Moon, just as Madge saves the Light Trees. With the viewers being told both times: Women Strong Bring Life Save Babies.

Clara saved the Moon Squid like Amy saved the Star Whale. Or something.

Clara saves the Moon Squid like Amy saves the Star Whale. Or something.

This episode outlines how a childless (career) woman needs the input of a ‘mothering’ carer/teacher/future parent younger woman to stop her from killing a baby. This I have a lot problems with. I believe people without children can have empathy for, be attached to, and generally have regard for life, human and otherwise.  So I’m gonna say this: a woman who doesn’t have kids doesn’t equal BABY HATER.

So there’s that.

If the other episode saw The Doctor as a protective father, Kill the Moon see’s this father kick the daughter out or rather abandon her to her elder non-mother mother. And the daughter is promptly put in a position of deciding to save a baby or abort it. Conclusion: Women go off the rails fast without the super smart almost immortal menfolk right?

Sigh.

The Doctor’s role is the same as in the Narnia-lite episode. The Doctor disqualifies himself for action on similar grounds. Last time it was that males are weak, Lucy was strong and Madge strongest of all. With the Baby Moon – The Doctor denies paternity, in a very paternal and condescending manner. He leaves the women, which he is at pains to point out, to make the decision. Because baby.

Deadbeat Dad? Except he doesn’t really leave them. As soon as Clara makes a decision he’s there with his approval and comments about training wheels coming off. Yay! he says patting Clara on the head, you Chose Life in this abortion parable.

Thing is he would have been there had they detonated the bombs, to deliver a stern dad lecture.

I guess this episode was a recall to Amy saving the Star Whale. But Amy based her actions on her observations. Clara just went with her femme-gut. Or something. So at the end The Doctor gets a hug from Amy and a rant from Clara. Same but different.

So much no

Here’s the problem with making female centric story about babies. Or baby stories so very didactic and female centric. It says: only babies make women important. And Only wanting or having babies make women care. And babies are only women’s business. A better female centric story, if it needed to say anything, would send the message that women are important in a range of ways, some related to babies, and others not, and are no more important and no less important than men. Or aliens.

My Captain, My Captain

This is a Woman in Space episode. Instead of Adelaide Brooke in Water of Mars, it is Captain Lundvik, who also reminds me too of the Captain at the Hedgewick’s World of Wonders in Nightmare in Silver. Adelaide, the unnamed Captain at Hedgewick’s and Lundvik, have a strong streak of duty and self-sacrifice. They are leaders looking for solutions to big problems. And fair enough too. However their solutions do involve death. Brooke kills herself to restore her descendent’s timeline. Captain at Hedgewick is killed attempting to explode a planet in an act of personal redemption, while Lundvik is leading a suicide mission to explode the Moon to save the Earth.

Is Doctor Who saying all female leaders are on a death wish kick? Or that women as leaders must (almost) always die? I hope not. Yet there is merit in presenting women capable of such decisions. Especially when each character has strengths and frailties and motivations. Adelaide Brooke was particularly convincing and complex.

And I’m forgetting the captain of the freighter in 42, too. Another woman sacrificing herself to save others. Admittedly from a problem she caused in the first place. But still.

New Moon Goddesses

This episode of Doctor Who is the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Courtney is Persephone, Clara is Demeter and Captain Lundvik is Hecate. The myth describes how Persephone is kidnapped by the Lord of the Underworld and is where she doesn’t want to be. Demeter goes looking for her daughter, is generally upset, and the world is ruined by it. Hecate, the old crone, is the only one to even bother to help her. Demeter finds Persephone, but the Lord of the Underworld has tricked her into eating a pomegranate seed so she can’t leave. Zeus arbitrates and Demeter wins back Persephone back for part of the year, and the Underworld gets her for the other part. As a myth it explains seasons, the stages of the moon and ritualises the fructification of the earth and the stages of a woman’s life – maiden, wife, crone.

It is important that Hecate is Goddess of the moon, of crossroads, an old woman, who is both scary but helpful. Demeter is the mother, more specifically, she is a mourning mother searching for her daughter. While she is mourning the world goes barren. Persephone meanwhile enters the realm of Death. If you like, The Doctor is this god. Lonely, powerful, exiled from the other gods and prone to ‘picking up strays’ and often the bringer of bad news.

Since The Doctor is both light and dark, he is also, in his paternal role, Zeus. Just as in the myth Zeus buggers off, as Zeus is wont to do so The Doctor leaves it up to the The Three Ages of Women to either kill the baby or bring it to a proper birth. However, as in the myth Zeus returns to arbitrate or bestow his blessing on the final decision, which means it all works out, sort of. The Baby Moon is saved. Persephone is restored, sort of – Courtney returns to school. Demeter returns to Danny and Hecate is appeased.

In both stories the earth is damaged and people look to the Moon to help. In both stories fixing the problem revivifies the world while recognising that life is circular. There are seasons, life and birth and death. While both stories affirm the importance of women, the cause of the quest and its resolution are down to important men. Some say this indicates changes in ancient Greek society to a patriarchal society or the relegation of one order of gods to another. Or both.  It does mean here The Doctor has oversight. He (and the TARDIS) decide the arena, even if he doesn’t fight. In the end he still stands in judgement.

This is all very well and good, if you want to read Goddess symbolism into this. But it doesn’t mitigate the other points I’ve made.

Courtney, Clara and Captain Ludvink downloading some rad music.

Courtney, Clara and Captain Lundvik downloading some rad tunes.

Life on Mars (and Pompeii)

The Doctor’s speeches about ‘grey areas’ in time were interesting. And his riff on why he doesn’t go kill Hitler was important. He addresses directly why events unfold as they do. His argument is that they must. They are inflection points. They are events in time that change the shape of what comes after. Just as in calculus they are the points which convex becomes concave.

However, when you put another person in a place to make a decision, the very least they should have is all the information they need to make an informed one. The Doctor had most of the information. He failed not only to intervene, but to give Clara the information she needed. He demanded she take responsibility, with Lundvik and Courtney, but didn’t give them the tools they needed. Clara, in offshoring her decision to the world was clever, even if it didn’t absolve her of responsibility. And she can’t imagine individuals decided with their lights, rather than governments turning off grids?

Clara’s situation is contrasted with that of Donna in Pompeii. Donna and The Doctor work together and understand what their decision means, for themselves and for the city. The Doctor attempts to not make a decision, while Donna tempers The Doctor’s understanding with her demand for him to consider both saving someone and alternate futures.  Their mutual actions and their shared suffering and responsibility reflects their mature friendship. Their hurt was made meaningful and it worked. On Mars, without Donna, The Doctor is pushed into attempting something he shouldn’t and it drives him mad. The decisions he makes and their results also drive him away from confronting his own possible death.

Volcano Day: Clara Explodes

Volcano Day: Clara Explodes

The Moon and You

On the moon, The Doctor is not mad and Clara isn’t Donna.

Despite everything she experienced and sacrificed The Doctor still pushes Clara away. She is no longer ‘his Clara’ of Matt Smith’s iteration, but more like a subordinate, a caring acolyte who goes along and manages to do things by knowing the words. They can’t read each other, and when they try they are so bad at it they mutually hurt each other with the revelations of their secrets and ill-timed anger.

While The Doctor softens Donna’s abrasiveness, she uses it to good effect to berate his tendency towards supercilious judgement. Donna speaks truth to power, loudly and often. Clara hasn’t got that. The Doctor and Clara are not buddies. The Doctor now comes off as grumpy and condescending grandparent who is hurt too easily by Clara. On the other hand Clara is more complicated than Donna and is establishing herself as a peer, an adult, with duties and expectations and The Doctor lets some of these down, mostly with his attitude.

While The Doctor for all his shouty grumpiness, still cares, his EQ has either dropped by several standard deviations or something else is going on.

Basically it was a bum note to end on, after their triumph and survival.

Regeneration Inflection Points

I think regeneration is a similar kind of inflection point. The line (person) is still the person, The Doctor is the Doctor, but this is the point along his axis that his shape, physically and metaphorically, changes. Regeneration could go either way, falling or rising. In Kill the Moon, it is clearer that The Doctor’s trajectory is different to Clara’s, even though they both existed before and after the inflection.

The writers demonstrate this change through references to his appearance and in his behaviour. Formerly he was youthful, and hugged and pretended to be a boyfriend, now he is older, actively resists hugs and acts like a parent or grandparent. They are, if you like, moving in different directions. Clara’s trajectory is about using her voice, her role, and realising her limits and defining herself. The Doctor is expanding, aging (well yes) and, in his own awkward way, demanding Clara go beyond her limits.

Sometimes it works. In Kill the Moon it didn’t. The Doctor doesn’t deserve not to get Clara and Clara doesn’t deserve to be treated like that. She has known too many of his selves and shaped his identity for it to end badly.

Timey Whimey Inflection Points

Timey Whimey Inflection Points

Knowing the Other

This Doctor is too ham-fisted, his ability to both detect and communicate nuance regarding motives portrays him as either clumsily naive or knowingly and condescending selfish. It’s alright to play up The Doctor’s ‘otherness’. He really is meant to be an alien. But it is not always ok for him to not understand or refuse to respect (even a little) how humans work. It’s been 50 years. Surely even he could’ve have retained something? It’s alright knowing that humans only have one heart and die after only a few years, however, it is even better to attempt to express (more often than recently) a lil empathy with the beings you choose to hang out with. He could read Amy and Rory, he cried about Rose, he tried and often failed to ‘get’ River. What has happened to his EQ?

Courtney-ing disaster

The Doctor can be rude and demanding but he’s rarely told anyone they’re unimportant. This is a complete turn around from everything else that indicated that he’d never encountered anyone who didn’t matter. I was under the impression that his opinions about humans were a bit exploded when his companion-less mission to Mars went pear-shaped up in his face. Not even his off-hand comment about Courtney becoming President citing the Blinovitch Limitation Effect undoes his earlier treatment of her.

Clara, in using Adelaide Brooke’s term ‘little people’ should ring some alarm bells. The Doctor is heading for a fall. If he doesn’t improve his EQ, badness will probably ensue.

 

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